Psychology professor Milton Strauss, PhD, knew he'd need advanced training in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to develop his latest research project--detecting brain activity associated with early changes in dementia and with cognitive performance in schizophrenia.
In five days, at APA's June Advanced Training Institute on fMRI at Massachusetts General Hospital in Charlestown, Mass., he received a knowledge base in the technology that he hopes to continue building on. Strauss, director of clinical training at Case Western Reserve University, was especially interested in imaging technology because his university is opening an fMRI research center within the next year to study affective and cognitive processes.
He joined nearly 40 other psychologists, advanced graduate students and postdocs for a crash course on ways psychologists can use fMRI to design informative experiments. Participants were exposed both to conventional data analysis techniques--the general linear model--and more recent techniques, such as principal component analysis and independent component analysis, to help interpret brain-scan findings.
APA's Science Directorate offers a handful of ATIs each summer at universities across the country to help researchers get up to speed with new technologies and methods in scientific psychology, says Virginia Holt, assistant executive director in APA's Science Directorate.
The fMRI workshop was the second of three ATIs offered this past summer. In early June, "Longitudinal methods, modeling and measurement in contemporary psychological research" was held at the University of Virginia, and in August, a workshop on using large-scale databases--funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development--was held at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
"Often with these new technologies--like fMRI or the newer measurement methods--scientists who are 15 to 20 years or more post-PhD need easy access to short courses in the subject matter," says Holt. "Our Advanced Training Institutes offer this type of training."
Using their new fMRI training, for example, Strauss and others who attended the June workshop can conduct neuroscience research on psychological functions such as sensation, cognition and emotion by providing scan data on brain blood flow and oxygenation.
The training for fMRI can also be applied to other brain-scanning devices. That's what made the workshop so appealing to psychologist Kathleen Insel, PhD, who studies cognitive aging among older adults at the University of Arizona College of Nursing, where she teaches. Insel is about to begin research using structural MRI brain scans but had some misgivings about the safety of using the technology with older adults, who are often skeptical of technology, she says.
Besides enlightening her about how the technology generates the images, the workshop also taught her such safety tips as hazards to be aware of in the scanning area. The training, she says, will help her to better explain the technology to patients. Insel hopes her use of brain imaging will shed light on the relationship of brain activity to everyday functioning among individuals with a chronic illness, such as hypertension.
To get the hands-on experience necessary to do such work, workshop participants divided into small groups and designed their own fMRI experiments on such topics as aggression, aging, producing narrative speech and problem-solving. Course director Robert Savoy, PhD, says the experiments allowed participants to apply what they had learned from the earlier workshop lectures on how to design a project incorporating fMRI.
"We provided an overview and a refresher on how they can work with fMRI," says Savoy, director of fMRI education at Massachusetts General Hospital. "There has been an explosion of research with fMRI. It's impossible to keep up with everything that has been published on functional brain-imaging studies. There are about 100 to 200 articles a year using these technologies. We tried to keep them abreast on the more exciting studies."